Thursday, December 23, 2010


[Frederick Edwin  Church, "The Iceberg"]


I feel as if we opened a book about great ocean voyages
and found ourselves on a great ocean voyage:
sailing through December, around the horn of Christmas
and into the January Sea, and sailing on and on

in a novel without a moral but one in which
all the characters who died in the middle chapters
make the sunsets near the book's end more beautiful.

—And someone is spreading a map upon a table,
and someone is hanging a lantern from the stern,
and someone else says, "I'm only sorry
that I forgot my blue parka; It's turning cold."

Sunset like a burning wagon train
Sunrise like a dish of cantaloupe
Clouds like two armies clashing in the sky;
Icebergs and tropical storms,
That's the kind of thing that happens on our ocean voyage—

And in one of the chapters I was blinded by love
And in another, anger made us sick like swallowed glass
& I lay in my bunk and slept for so long,

I forgot about the ocean,
Which all the time was going by, right there, outside my cabin window.

And the sides of the ship were green as money,
             and the water made a sound like memory when we sailed.

Then it was summer. Under the constellation of the swan,
under the constellation of the horse.

At night we consoled ourselves
By discussing the meaning of homesickness.
But there was no home to go home to.
There was no getting around the ocean.
We had to go on finding out the story
                                                        by pushing into it—

The sea was no longer a metaphor.
The book was no longer a book.
That was the plot.
That was our marvelous punishment.

        ~ Tony Hoagland, from Hard Rain. (a chapbook, 2005; Writer’s Almanac, December 22, 2010 



"The journey of life" – it seems like a worn-out metaphor, and yet Tony Hoagland manages to put new life into it. Another statement this poem reminded me of was something my father (and I am sure many others) said: "Everyone's life could be made into a novel." Again, Tony makes that novel come alive, with all our fears and confusions.

The stanza that touches a special chord in me is this one:

At night we consoled ourselves
By discussing the meaning of homesickness.
But there was no home to go home to.
There was no getting around the ocean.
We had to go on finding out the story
                                                        by pushing into it —

— it brought back the terrible moment I realized that there was no home to go home to; all I could do was to "push into the story." Once I read about a Chinese general who transported the troops by ship to another country he planned to conquer, and then burned the ships, so the soldiers would know they had to march inland; there would be no sailing home. Burning the ships or burning the bridges – one way or another we know that there is no going back, only forward.

What seems most confusing, and this is what I think Tony means by our "marvelous punishment," is that we do not know our destination; we make plans and try to plan our route, but life laughs at us.

Many New Age persons believe that the soul has a specific task to accomplish in this lifetime, but before incarnating, the soul had to drink from the river of forgetting – or maybe the memory of that task was removed from the soul by some other means. In any case, we are born without a clue, and try to find out somehow (that’s our “marvelous punishment”). We go to a psychic or a college job assistance center to take the career aptitudes test; we start journaling, quit journaling in favor of ballet classes – you know how that goes. Is the search really ever over, or does it only seem that way? What about those midlife career changes? What about people who are the late-late bloomers, who discover their most fulfilling work and make their greatest contribution after they retire?

This morning I was thinking about how it was mostly other people who determined the course of my life. I did what others wanted me to do, with one exception: writing. People (parents, teachers, peers) did not want me to write.  I certainly wasn't pressured to start writing. I wasn't even encouraged, however faintly. In fact in college I was told I had no talent, which stalled my development for three and a half years. And yet, somehow, with shipwrecks and without a map, writing happened.

It also didn't feel like a choice, but the forces, both inner and outer, that were making me write – those forces were a mystery, but at least they were not other people. When I write, it's between me and the language. I am forever surprised and thrilled when someone else actually reads my writing, but I have no thought of an audience while I write. Who do I write for? Is this a conversation with an unknown god? I have no idea. I live with the mystery. I push into the story.

I remember one workshop where we were all asked why write. One person after another gave either a noble, altruistic reason or a therapeutic one, or both. I said I have no idea why I write, but my best guess is that I do it because I am compulsive. The instructor looked at me with disgust. That moment passed quickly, since the person to my left was already saying, "Because I want to share my thoughts and feelings." "And also to inspire others," she added, not wanting to sound too self-centered. And there I sat, compulsively attending a workshop just because it was there.

Here is a further steal from the Writer’s Almanac:

Donald Harington said: "If you are destined to become a writer, you can't help it. If you can help it, you aren't destined to become a writer. The frustrations and disappointments, not even to mention the unspeakable loneliness, are too unbearable for anyone who doesn't have a deep sense of being unable to avoid writing."

Instead of “destined,” I am tempted to substitute “If you are compulsive enough.” And this reminds me that I am indebted forever to Brenda Hammack, who in the past stopped my tortured babbling about reasons we write by stating clearly and without apology: “We write because we are compulsive.” I am sure this applies in all fields of art. Was Picasso compulsive about painting? Was Pavlova compulsive about dancing? We know those are rhetorical questions. Picasso never painted in order to make a great gift to humanity. He painted because he had to, because if he could not paint, he would die. 



Still in awe of Tony's poem. Going forward is really a day by day decision. I like your "conversation with an unknown god."

Sign over the entrance to National City Library: "I always thought heaven would be a sort of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges


I too am in awe of that poem and the phrase "pushing into the story."

In my youth I felt that I was indeed living inside a bad novel written by an incompetent writer with a crude, heavy-handed sort of sense of humor. Alternately, I felt the Book of Job explained it all: there was this wager to see how much it would take to break us.

"The journey of life" is probably the most common metaphor for human existence.  We travel through time; some of us also make leaps across the continent or this or that ocean (location, location). There have been endless guesses as to where we are going, since we would rather not contemplate the most obvious. Jung was probably right when he said that the psyche cannot endure the thought of annihilation. ("When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you" ~ Nietzsche)

The poem somewhat reminds me of what Billy Collins tends to do. But with Collins everything turns into a chuckle, while Hoagland’s poem uses humor, especially in the first stanza, to seduce us into reading a rather dark piece. I think we sense this already in the second stanza:

a novel without a moral but one in which
all the characters who died in the middle chapters
make the sunsets near the book's end more beautiful. 


which reminds me of the movie "The Hours," and how Virginia Woolf explains why one of the characters has to die – So the rest of us can appreciate being alive.

The mystery of where we are going is in large part the mystery of self-transformation that takes place over the years. We hope that our journey is toward a greater self that we sense within us. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, No single event can awaken within us the stranger totally unknown to us. To live is to be slowly born.

So many years to be born – and then it’s time to die? We are senior citizens by the time we stop living from our wounds and begin to live from our greatness – and the time to depart is so soon? This joke is so cruel that of course we yearn for an afterlife.  Afterlife as a library, with our books in it – practically all writers, and not just writers, would love it. Now if only there existed a religion that promised that . . . and maybe a book club and a poetry salon as options that come with that infinite library . . .

John Donne suggested a book image for an afterlife. When we die, our page is not torn from the Book of Life, but translated into a better language.  

John Guzlowski:

Oriana, you are a wonderment.

Reading through all of this is amazing -- so much going on in your thoughts, so much that you are willing to share.

I loved the part about heaven as being a library.   It reminded me of what my daughter Lillian used to say about heaven when she was a little girl.  Heaven she felt would be populated by all the characters she loved in the books she loved.

I wrote a blog about it (I had almost forgotten) and here's the link (by the way, there's a photo of my dad there with Lillian and my mom's brother Uncle Walter [who found my mom after the war in Germany in a DP camp]).

And as you say, death is cruel.  We spend our lives learning to be the wonderful, thoughtful, loving, spiritual people we always hoped to be and then we are.  All that suffering and learning and growing lost.  Definitely, it's a gloomy world.


Thank you, John. I hope I don’t overwhelm the reader. My blog is so different from a typical chatty blog. Zagajewski asked, “Why are you so metaphysical?” I don’t know why – maybe the traditional Catholic upbringing, which was in fact very dark (sin, hell, suffering is good for you) sensitized me to metaphysical questions at an early age.

I think the only consolation for dying, however feeble, is to know that we have contributed something good to the collective psyche; that we have been bearers of light.

If our ethical and economic priorities were right, most biomedical research would be devoted to extending “health span.” Considering that wisdom comes to us so late in life (Hegel: The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk), we could use fifty more years of vitality to put that wisdom to use. Ah, the poems I could finally write . . .

By the way, I recommend to all John’s great Heaven blog. Personally, I can imagine long conversations with Odysseus, Raskolnikov, Anna Karenina, Prince Myshkin, and yes, Primo Levi might be interested in my grandmother’s Auschwitz stories. 


Writers are always told they should keep their audience in mind.  I certainly never think of a human audience when I’m writing.  I used to say that when I write I’m doing something that’s between me and my god, although afterwards it occurs to me it would be nice to have somebody read the poem and appreciate it. 

And yes, of course it’s a compulsive activity.  I’m sort of like a pot boiler, with a lot of steam building up.  When I write, I release that pressure.


I am so glad this came up. Yes, writers are always told to think of their audience, but maybe it's like the myth of eight glasses of water a day? There is no scientific foundation for it. The body tells you when you need water. And the brain does its thing when it comes to writing – the less conscious the process, generally the better the quality. To me, the greatest gift is a poem that arrives in minutes, “at white heat” – though I know that it’s taken me a lifetime to arrive at that moment of inspiration. 

Some of my best lines make no sense when they first hit my consciousness, except for their beauty and originality. I know they are right, but don't understand why, and sometimes it takes someone else to point out the meaning.

On the other hand, lines that are totally obvious to me may be obscure to some readers. During revision, some thought should be given to that, especially if there is a consensus about lack of clarity. But in the end, it's your poem. True, the reader will make it his/her poem, but that never enters into consideration while the creative process is "on." The poem works or it doesn't work. It either has magic or it doesn't.

And yes, we write because we are compulsive, and I am sick of all the noble lies I've heard on the subject. People who are not compulsive enough to be writers would be better off volunteering for the humane shelter, the soup kitchen, or the senior center. Then there is always gardening.

Rilke asks, "Must I write?" By which he means, if I didn't, I would die. Was Rilke compulsive? Was Kafka? This weirdly reminds me of something I heard on PBS: many convents are closing their doors. The one that is thriving and recruiting novices like crazy is the Dominican Sisters, which cling to traditional white habit and traditional Catholicism in general. What's the connection here to Tony Hoagland, Rilke, Borges, etc? I'd like someone to clarify it for me. All I know is that it belongs. The Dominican Sisters refusing to wear jeans belong in this post.


This bit, in particular, really strikes my heart: "When I write, it's between me and the language. I am forever surprised and thrilled when someone else actually reads my writing, but I have no thought of an audience while I write. Who do I write for? Is this a conversation with an unknown god? I have no idea. I live with the mystery. I push into the story."

I, too, am always strangely lured by language and its magic, and in my ideal world I would speak all languages, know all languages and all words within them, and understand their complex nuances in each culture – I would live atop that tower of Babel perhaps. And audience? Yes, I am never even really asking the question, "Who is there?" or "Who will read this?" The push of expression/desire/epiphany simply pulls me toward a pen and a paper.

This is, indeed, hard to reckon with as an artist – when you see all of your piles on the floor (or all of your paintings stacked on top of each other in a studio, as the case may be) without a reader and maybe even without a destiny. They may even be like Tibetan sand paintings that are only momentary and soon to be brushed away (or torn up) by wind, water, or time. Sometimes I like to think that my poems have only one particular destiny or reader, and that once that poem, for whom it was meant (though I quite often don't know, initially, who that someone is) the poem has reached its "home." Then again, maybe, like us, poems have no home to go home to. 

Nevertheless, as Annie Dillard said, "You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back..." So I went up Palomar Mountain, winter solstice, and built a kind of bonfire with friends, and went into the sweat lodge where we were inside a cloud, inside rain, inside the dark – listening to rain drop on our little canvass hut, feeling the rain seep up from the Earth, flowing all around us. Stones were brought in to warm us, and water was poured on the stones, and even inside we were surrounded by steam-cloud, and with small flickers of light, we huddled in the mud and sang and spoke our hearts and looked utterly primordial – so small and humbled, so huge and mythical. We were inside a womb again. I guess life, nature, poetry, dance, and song pull us into a fairy tale – one that is real and ephemeral, one that is always changing and being retold – a journey of life, yes. 

Peace, love, joy, and a little sunshine!

Lisa also clarified the Dominican nuns for us:

Oriana, I'm really laughing – as I almost included in my last post a bit about nuns. I heard on NPR yesterday that nuns – and one particular nunnery where the women wear white habits and feel that they are truly married to Jesus/God – are the "new radicals" of the day – moving away from the one-liner, empty, text-message world. I laughed because I immediately had in mind all of my poet friends who have been "married to poetry" – so much so that they often turn their backs on a partner in human form!  Yes, there is a correlation here! HA!


As you probably guessed, I combined two of Lisa’s posts, but kept “Peace, love, joy, and a little sunshine!” after “the journey of life.” Chastened by middle age, that’s what we ultimately wish for our journey of life: not fame and fortune, but “peace, love, joy, and a little sunshine.” As one friend of mine said, “Instead of the pursuit of happiness, I believe in the pursuit of peace. When I am peaceful, everything else follows.”

Note: a little sunshine. Not too much. Not the vicious summer solar radiation that burns the edges of leaves. Metron ariston – moderation (“the middle way”) is best. Thus the wisdom of the ancient Greeks meets the wisdom of the Buddha, whether it comes to the size of the Christmas supper or the beginning of your weight training.

(By the way, did you know that hardly anything increases a woman’s self-esteem as weight-training does? Start humbly, with 4-lbs dumbbells. First thing in the morning, before breakfast, SLOWLY lift them just above your nipples -- no need to aim higher. Lower and lift, until your body tells you to stop. Try it just once, and you’ll immediately know what I mean about self-esteem! As Lisa so poetically put it, we start small and humble, and minutes later we are huge and mythical, and sweating a bit.)

Male readers may not understand this on the emotional level, but women need all the help with their self-esteem they can get – and all the peacefulness too.)



I've been enjoying the taste of "pushing into the story," sailing around the "Horn of Christmas," and the quote from Borges, "I always thought heaven would be a kind of library." I wish that were true!

This line: "What seems most confusing, and this is what I think Tony means by our marvelous punishment, is that we don't know our destination; we make plans and try to plan our route, but life laughs at us." I agree. This is why I've resisted James Hillman's work with the daimon simply because the idea doesn't work. There is no conceptual rigor for the present, it simply isn't useful for life – trying to identify our daimon isn't possible. We fool ourselves by trying to. It is only possible in retrospect and can only be decided by those we leave behind. The daimon is suitable for the tombstone – Here Lies Michael... I have no way of knowing what else might be said. 

We're rounding the Horn of Christmas, yes. May our ships be worthy and sound.


Michael cont. (from Rome):

On Christmas Eve I went to midnight mass at Rome's Basilica of St. Mary of Angels and Martyrs. Like the other 100,000 churches, cathedrals and architectural wonders Italy tries to maintain, the Basilica is too large to understand its vastness, too filled with paintings to absorb the stories, and the craftsmanship too extensive to know what to admire first. Too much. Of everything. And there's just something...that doesn't seem to add up. I've been tempted to think Italy is a boot-shape lie, that these monuments are not gifts and praise to God but structures to ego and arrogance and fear.

I walked the empty streets after mass munching on roasted chestnuts and pondering my cynicism. Perhaps there is another possibility. In the rear of the Basilica are two pendulums, moving almost imperceptibly, with a story written on a wall board telling about Galileo's studies of motion and time. The story ended with these words: Given that all things are in motion, "stones have the same status as stars."

Is this why we do art? To remind ourselves we are more than stones? If so, every shaped stone, painting, or sculpture is a cold, hard prayer to escape the darkness and shadows of the soul. This would suggest that Italians have felt darkness, shadow, loss, and fear, more intensely than any others.

Or, maybe each monument is just a lie, and for most people, a very good, needed lie.

This morning I visited St. Peter's Basilica and saw Michelangelo's Pieta. Stunning (and parked too close to two mummified popes, in my humble opinion). Even my amateur eye can see he remains the greatest, and he was only 25 when he carved it.

Saw the Pope at mass and later in the square when he addressed the crowd. It was raining -- and one minute before he stepped out the rain stopped and the sun shined. How can other religions compete with that! I'm happy to say before he finished it started raining again, hopefully diminishing some of mystique.



I'm most intrigued with "stones have the same status as stars."
Michael goes on to wonder if artists make art in order to be more than stones. 
I like to think of art as celebrating life (even when it's about death, it celebrates life) so I read the quote as referring to the "life" that everything is imbued with, whether stones or stars.



I like the words written on the wall of the Basilica. The Buddha teaches that all is alive in different ways. 

Oriana (reply to Debby and Una)

Galileo’s greatest achievement was his laws of motion. Everything moves (Heraclitus really hit on something there, but it took Galileo to work out the mathematics). Stones and stars are the same from the point of view of the laws of motion. It’s ironic that the tribute to Galileo should be in the basilica (true, in the back of it), since Galileo is regarded as the father of modern science. He was persecuted by the Church, spending his last years under house arrest. And of course many claim that science has been the primary factor in diminishing the power and influence of the Church.

As for everything being alive in different ways, a physicist would probably say that matter is a form of energy, and energy is timeless. In more ancient terms, resurrected by the New Age, our recycled antiquity, the idea is called “pan-psychism.” Everything is alive, and the whole universe is alive, and has one mind, the collective Logos. Our minds are part of the general Logos. Reality is “psychoid,” that is, our psyche can influence external reality. Once we get into quantum physics, anything seems possible.

Another interesting coincidence is that the name “Galileo” brings to mind Galilee and the most famous of all Galileans, an outrageously radical religious leader who preached forgiveness, forbidding revenge. No one has ever made a more radical statement than “Love your enemy.” Galileo as the first modern experimental scientist was an outrageous radical in his own way, daring to question authority (in this case, the revered Aristotle) in favor of empirical evidence.

But the statement about “stones and stars” is much too striking to be left at the level of physics. Both words have archetypal symbolism, and seem opposites. Unifying them at any level demands metaphorical thinking. Stones and stars and trees and people, the Tao’s “ten thousand things” – these are all children of the Universe (call it also the Great Mother, the Source, the Ground of Being). The artist’s task is often said to be “to praise the world” – to praise life in spite of suffering.  The very existence of a poem or a sculpture or a symphony, no matter how tragic the theme, is a triumph of life and an homage to life. A poet writing about death is still saying, “I live.” 

Oriana (reply to Michael):

So glad it started raining again before the Pope was finished. Relief! You know how the human mind works – how easy it is a label an experience "mystical" and convert to any religion that happens to be handy . . . Our hunger for meaning can never be fully filled, never. 

Creating art may make us think that we are more than stones, and yes, certainly, art has a social function and can lift us above the mundane. As one poet put it,

The matter is, each of us houses within a pietà
tearing itself out of Chaos, the mud still caked on our loins

I love these lines. Our lives are a chaos of ten thousand things. Women understand this in painful detail as they move from tomatoes to beans to cheese, walking ten thousand miles in the labyrinths of supermarket aisles. Only those who are both exceptionally gifted and exceptionally self-disciplined and focused can bring their inner pietà into perfection and offer it to the world.

But a pietà is a figure of grief over the loss of what we loved most. So much art rises out of loss, out of downright trauma and tragedy. The transformation of grief into art makes the grief bearable.

Still, no matter what the deep roots of art, artists sculpt, paint, write, sing, and so on primarily because they are compulsive. Those Angels and Martyrs we call artists create art because they have to. Everything else is an afterthought.

I know my words do not do justice to your rich post, in particular the provocative statement about Italy being a boot-shaped lie . . . But I will not mar my reply with any abstract musings about god versus ego or the social role of art; I will also resist the temptation to keep on circling like a crazed philosopher around destiny and destination. Let the images speak.

Thank you again for this rich sharing, this prose poem of Christmas in Rome. We wish you abundant la dolce vita in Italy, so that you return to basilica-poor California with enough sweetness to keep smiling at your memories for years and years to come.


Oriana cont. (from a much humbler but still lovely location)

Picking up the thread of destiny: The daimon is the ancient Greek concept of a guardian spirit (here they are again! whatever you think of, they thought of it first) of a very particular sort: this spirit guides us toward our destiny (not to be confused with fate, which is circumstances we were born into; destiny is the future pulling us toward it).

Achilles was famously born with two daimons, or destinies: he could either live a short glorious life, or a long peaceful life with no glory. First, he chose the long peaceful life; later, driven by rage, he threw himself into battle. (By the way, the first word of the Iliad is not “Sing,” is not “”Heavenly,” as in “Oh Heavenly Muse” – in Greek, the first word of the Iliad is rage.)

While we are still in the Mediterranean basin, I must mention Heraklitos (Latinized to Heraclitus), who saw us as being able to shape our destiny, at least to an extent. One of his most famous aphorisms is Ethos anthropoi daimon, usually translated as “character is destiny.” Scholars don’t agree on how best to translate “ethos.” One interesting interpretation is that it means not so much personal integrity as “daily habits.” That would mean that our daily habits are destiny – it makes sense, e.g. the habit of working versus the habit of procrastinating. (Of course there is only so much we can control; so much depends not only on the red wheelbarrow but even on the proverbial butterfly in China.)

But most dictionaries define destiny as an event or course of events that will inevitably happen in the future. Aside from death and taxes, is there such inevitability? In the modern age, can we still take seriously the idea that each of us has a particular daimon, or destiny? Maybe due to our longer life expectancy, or maybe because this is the Age of Distraction, those who have a strong (or, frankly, any) sense of destiny seem an exception – the Dominican Sisters, perhaps? 

Psychologists are beginning to suggest that perhaps each of us has a different vocation at different stages of life. Thus there may be a decade of intense parenthood, followed by a period of dedicated work in a profession, followed by a period of community work (if only it were so simple . . .  maybe it is, for the lucky few).

James Hillman is a Jungian psychologist. Perhaps he never doubted his vocation (there are those early bloomers who never swerve), and that’s why he is blind to the cluelessness of others. Adam Zagajewski said that most poets have no idea what their message is; in AZ’s view, Zbigniew Herbert, whom I regard as the greatest Polish poet of the twentieth century, to the end of his life had absolutely no idea what his message was.

But isn’t that always for the readers to decide? And can a poet have many messages, with no single central one emerging, and still write wonderful poems? A poet who claims to know what s/he is saying is either a simplistic, mediocre poet, or else s/he is deluding herself. Also, each age finds different messages in the work that survives. In fact, the very reason that we call a masterpiece “ageless” is that each generation can make it fit their needs and understanding.

In spirit I agree with Michael that the daimon’s destiny is to be identified only on the tombstone. Alas, the growing popularity of cremation and scattering the ashes means that even our daimon will be gone with the wind rather than written in stone. But rather than despair, let us ponder how we inscribe ourselves in the memories of those whose lives we touch. We mean something within a social network. As Christopher Reeves eloquently put it, “Family values means that we are all family, and we all have value.”

But to have heard what you take to be the voice of your daimon even once in your life, and to have obeyed his or her orders even for a while – that is quite an experience. Need I say that the daimon speaks when you least expect it?


As for turning to your god/vocation and away from your human partner, that’s the tricky part. The ideal partner is one who does not interfere with your vocation, but is supportive; that supportiveness, in turn, usually makes a woman take time our for mutually nurturing times together that become at least as precious as spending the time with the muse. I think that no matter what our primary vocation is at a particular stage of our life, our other, universal, human vocation is to be loving toward at least one person, and kind and affectionate toward many.

I have a poem about this conflict between human love and the love of art, and its resolution, at least in poetic terms: 


Once I found the great love of my life,
I did not want to sleep
in anyone’s arms –

it was difficult enough to fall
asleep in the arms of the Muse
wooing me, making me write it down.

The Muse evicted men from my bed –
the tenderness of waking together,
animal yawn and press –

Is this your knee or mine?
But sex would follow, the man
always prepared like a boy scout,

while I wanted coffee, my eccentric
yogurt – and to go soul-deep
into a poem or a book.

Beauty so ancient and so new,
I exist because I have loved you,
I pray with Saint Augustine.


It used to be high drama:
drunken poets, dim decrepit streets –
Hollywood’s junkie neon light,

stairways of misfortune and stale stench –
to meet a man who didn’t love me,
who wasn’t even good in bed.


Not done with eros for the duration,
though in cat-lazy afternoon,
I tried to explain to my mate

the concept of immortal soul.
The soul began in Egypt.
The earth portion, ka,

lived on in the tomb.
The ba went to heaven;
now and then it visited the ka.

“It visited?” he asked.
“I bet they had sex.”


In old age, I wonder, what will I
remember? Pages I have
written, pages I have read?

Or will one of my souls
go back to where we used to walk
on the beach, holding hands –

The shimmer of the cliffs
mirrored in wet sand, in trembling
shallow pools –

the rocks weightless as dragonflies,
the chatter of the Muse drowned out
at last. Beauty so ancient and so new,

you exist because we have loved you,
we pray with Saint Augustine
and we are holding hands.

~ Oriana




Well, I finally got around to reading all of the Oriana emails.  I save them, like unopened letters -- a rich treat that I want to savor over a quiet cup of tea! My head is swimming with nuns and home and thinking about why I write. I thought of Emily Dickinson who thought of her poems of gifts that she sent to friends. Maybe we write to send a little gem, a gift to someone – anyone who will listen. Maybe we're all just compulsive and generous!! So, Oriana, I hope that you have a lovely holiday, full of the generosity of light and love.   


Thank you, dear Jill, for reminding us of generosity. We can’t just be compulsive; the other side of being an artist needs to be generosity.

I know that elsewhere I have indeed said that I write for friends and loved ones, and I know I am not the only one to have said that. John Guzlowski recently said that; Una said that. But the thought of art as a gift alights in to my mind like a lovely angel only after the writing is done. It applies more to wanting to share the work. During the writing process, I confess I have no conscious intention of making a gift to anyone. There is only one law then: the creative process must go on!

In the calm afterwards, yes, that seems to be the perfect reason! Or so says the angel, uninterested in the demons that may have had something to do with producing the poem. But now is the time of the Angel of Peace and Generosity (whose name is all our names), so hark, and be well.


  1. Thank you for "The Voyage," Oriana. I didn't know the poem and now will come back to it again and again. Thank you also for all your fine and careful and human thinking about the poem. It enriches me.

  2. Yes, it is one of those poems that you can come to again and again. Hoagland deserves more credit for being one of the most intelligent poets we have, an intrepid thinker.

    When I am at a loss in defining my vocation/destiny, I take the wide path of thinking of myself as a "bringer of light." I treasure your comments.

  3. That's quite a voyage here, and a polyphony of insights into aspects of life and afterlife. It is fascinating to read this journey. The exquisite poem that started it all is an absolute gem. Sometimes saying less says more.

    Thanks for posting your own poem, too. I prefer poems to their explanations any time!

  4. Wow, Maja, I love the phrase "a polyphony of insights." That's what a poem should be, and even a short poem can provide that polyphony because such is the power of poetry.

    Analyzing poems is somewhat like analyzing music -- we'd rather just listen to the music.

    And now I can't remember: how did the discussion stray into the topic of the writer's alleged audience? Probably my own fault, but that's another problem -- digressions. Once in a while, though, the analysis yields something interesting.

  5. only had time this morning for fiction/truth and found it jarred me awake better than my coffee. couldn't stop reading it. thank you,

  6. Perhaps rather than compulsion we might reflect back to the earlier quote:

    " “The moment of writing is not an escape; it is only an insistence, through the imagination, upon human ecstasy, and a reminder that such ecstasy remains as much a birthright in this world as misery remains a condition of it.”

    It is (often) our need to create ecstasy and to share that ecstasy with others. Perhaps in some ways a panacea for a poet living in a nonpoetic world.


  7. "bringer of light."


  8. I dearly want to believe in ecstasy and all the other wonderful stuff. And there are moments of that. Nevertheless, I know I am compulsive, I know I write because I'm compulsive. I hope I can indeed be a bringer of light because of or maybe in spite of the fact that I have this pathology, the source of both my strength and my suffering.